Author Archive | Sean Captain

Serendipity, Guaranteed

Serendipity is wonderful, but it doesn’t happen often. For every enriching coincidence – meeting someone who becomes a lifelong friend or lifelong partner, finding that fantastic hidden restaurant – we miss how many? Dozens, maybe hundreds of other lucky opportunities?

Now several tech startups are trying to increase the odds of connection.

How? By combining intimate knowledge of your comings and goings with understanding of your likes and dislikes – then connecting you with likeminded people and perfect places.

What do they ask in return? For most, an opportunity to push hyper-specific ads or discount offers.

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The Brave New World of Mobile Phone Privacy

When Apple sneezes, the world takes interest in ear-nose-throat medicine. So upon learning that their iPhones have been building a bloated file of location data, consumers started wondering if mobile service also means mobile surveillance.

Add the unrelated but scary hacking of Sony’s PlayStation and Online Entertainment networks, and suddenly people are thinking about the data they are shedding and who’s picking it up.

Location is the bonanza of 2011. Companies are chasing hundreds of billions of dollars in potential revenue by trying to learn where consumers are, where they’ve been and even where they may be going.

“Through mobile we are getting data which as marketers we haven’t had access to before,” said Michael Collins, CEO of mobile marketing firm Joule at a recent conference. “We’re beginning to see the full life patterns of the consumer.”

Is this creepy (they know all about you), or great (marketers offer you stuff you actually want, rather than things you couldn’t care less about)? It depends on what you value, what you understand, and how much control you end up having.

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Rule One: Don’t Mess With How People Do Things

Recently, I drove a Mini Cooper for the first time. (Rented from Zipcar for $13/hour. Not bad.)

That’s not news, obviously. They’ve been around forever. But it taught me something very important about product design: It’s really hard–and aggravating–for us consumers if you mess with our way of doing things.

For example, it took me several minutes to figure out how to put the window up. Nothing on the door, where I would first expect it. Nothing on the center console, my second choice. Finally, I found a barely labeled button near the radio controls. I had similar trouble trying to put the seat back to get luggage in the rear of the car. The levers weren’t where they are in every other car I’ve driven.
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Cutting the Cable-TV Cord? Maybe Some Day

Cord cutting–getting rid of cable or satellite TV–is the buzzword du jour in the TV and electronics industries. Pundits have proclaimed TV dead, or at least dying00going the way of the recording industry, which went from pricey CDs to cheaper downloads and now to mostly-free streaming.

That was the juiciest topic last Friday at New York University during the Future of Television Conference, a gathering of TV brass such as the CEO’s of Showtime and Univision, senior executives from MTV Networks, Discovery, and Yahoo, and founders of Internet video startups. The subject also permeated Pepcom’s Wine, Dine & Demo  tech show the night before, where about a half-dozen Internet-to-TV products were being shown.

The conclusion, at least to this reporter, is that cord cutting is about as real now as growing new organs in vats. Consumers will do it–but they won’t do it in droves just yet.

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Bundle.com Crowdsources Reviews, Without the Crowd Knowing They’re Reviewing Anything

While trust in the pro media falls, faith in the views of regular folk keeps growing. In an April survey by PowerReviews, for example, over half of consumers said that they trust user reviews of products, and they are reading more of them.

But the more they read, the more confused they can get. According to users of Rotten Tomatoes, for example, the new movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is either a “Kick Ass, well research, solid story” or “an embarrassment.” It just depends on what review you read. (And the overall average rating of 56 percent doesn’t clarify.)

To remedy the user-review confusion, a new company called Bundle is committing the social-media blasphemy of rejecting what people say. Instead, it looks at what they do–mainly by analyzing credit card data to see how much money people spend, and where. (They also look at government statistics and third-party surveys.) Through a deal with Citibank, Bundle culls anonymous credit card info from 20 million shoppers to analyze spending habits. “So what if five people swear really wildly that this restaurant is lousy, if 95 percent [of the customers] go back,” says the company’s founder, Jaidev Shergill.

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Is the Web Going Away? Or is It Going All Over the Place?

When Wired hyperbolically declared that “The Web is Dead,” it didn’t challenge my worldview but rather surfaced what I knew subconsciously. The browser is not always (and increasingly less so) the best window to the Internet — especially on mobile gadgets. For years on my iPhone — and now on my Droid – I’ve foregone digging around in a tiny browser in favor of burrowing straight to what I want through an app – the New York Times, Facebook, The Weather Channel…

At this week’s Web 2.0 conference in New York, John Gruber of blog Daring Fireball tried to illustrate app supremacy by showing the absurdity of an iPad screen with only the Safari Web browser icon.

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Consumers Put 3D TV to the Test

We’re hearing a lot about 3D television these days– from TV manufacturers, directors, journalists and pundits. But do consumers like it? And will they pay for it?

To find out, I convened a mini focus group of adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s,; a teenager; and a pair of kids under 10. We met at the Samsung Experience store in New York City a few weeks ago. After watching a wild assortment of clips–from The Daily Show to a Dunkin Donuts commercial to Monsters vs. Aliens–they had a mildly favorable impression. But no one was jumping up to buy a new TV and a pile of expensive active-shutter LCD glasses.
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